Gilligan’s Island was an extremely popular American sitcom that aired on CBS for a total of three seasons, between 1964 and 1967, with three television movies to boot. The story follows seven castaways who are left shipwrecked on a deserted island, after their boat (the S.S. Minnow) runs into a typhoon.
The tropical island (known as Gilligan’s Island) is completely unchartered yet seems to attract a few “guest stars” who drop in from time to time. The castaways include Bob Denver who played Gilligan himself (the rather ditzy firstmate of the Captain of S.S. Minnow), Jim Backus and Natalie Schafer who play Mr and Mrs Howell (a millionaire couple), Tina Louise who plays movie star Ginger Grant, and Russell Johnson as the Professor.
The show follows the plight of the castaways as they attempt (unsuccessfully) to escape from the island; with Gilligan usually being the reason their best laid plans never work. Gilligan’s Island was filmed in black and white throughout the first series, which consisted of 36 episodes. These episodes were then later colorized to match up with the second and third series, along with the TV movies which came later.
Throughout its syndication, Gilligan’s island grew in popularity. After receiving fairly good ratings to begin with, the show became more of a hit in the 70s and 80s when it was shown in the afternoons; typically after school. The shenanigans that ensued throughout the three seasons, and the number of impressive guest stars, led to Gilligan’s Island becoming a bit of an icon of American TV. It’s still greatly regarded as one of the best sitcoms of all time, with a large following even today. The title character, Gilligan, is especially revered and is thought to be a cultural icon in America and across the world.
Mary Ann and Ginger were only meant to have gone on a three hour boating trip. There is no way that these characters had enough clothes to never be seen wearing the same thing twice; but that’s what ended up happening. You never see the two wearing the same outfit twice.
The Skipper’s Name
The Skipper was only known as the Skipper, we never hear his actual full name, or do we? If you listen closely, the Skipper gave us his name during the pilot episode that aired in 1964. His full name was Jonas Grumby. When Alan passed away, his ashes were scattered at sea. “It’s what ‘The Skipper’ would have wanted,” a source said.
The fourth wall is the space between an actor and his camera crew or audience. The Skipper would often break the fourth wall when he would be caught looking directly at the camera and making a face. Also, there was a plan for a fourth movie, which Denver described as “The seven of us think it’s destroyed and we get married. Gilligan marries Mary Ann and they have a baby boy. The Professor marries Ginger and they have a baby girl. And then there’s like a Blue Lagoon sequence where the kids grow up, so when Gilligan’s son is twenty, he sails off to see whether the world is really destroyed, and of course it isn’t. They heard it on the radio, and Gilligan broke it just before the disclaimer came on.”
The Skipper, played by Alan Hale Jr. had a bit of a vocal tic where he would call people ‘little buddy’. This happened all the time on set, and is the main reason that his character, the Skipper, would call Bob Denver’s character, Gilligan, ‘little buddy’. It added to the Skipper’s demeanor as well.
Actor Bob Denver didn’t like that his co-stars Dawn Wells and Russell Johnson were listed in the credits as ‘the rest’ rather than named. He insisted that they be named in the credits. Another fact is that Jerry Van Dyke was offered the role of Gilligan and turned it down, “But that’s the joke: I turned it down and took My Mother the Car. But, again, it was really good, because I’d [have] been forever known as Gilligan. So that worked out, too.”
Flags At Half Staff
Within the first scene of the opening credits to the show, the US flags are seen hanging at half mast. The reason for that was the shooting of John F. Kennedy, which occurred right before filming started. More specifically the show’s pilot episode finished filming on November 22, 1963 which coincided with the day President Kennedy was shot.
Sherwood Schwartz, the creator of the show, hated Newton Minow, who, at the time, was the head of the Federal Communications Commission. As a form of a private joke, Schwartz named the shipwreck S.S Minnow. We are not sure whether or not Newton ever caught on.
The cups the characters were drinking from were made out of real coconuts during the first season. But because coconuts are actually porous and therefore easily ruined, the characters used ceramic cups that looked like coconuts thereafter. Interesting that they can keep in all that coconut milk though.
Because the show is from the 1960s, most of the actors from the show have since passed away, as did the show’s creator, Sherwood Schwartz. Those that remain, Dawn Wells and Tina Louise are both well into their 70s and 80s. We hope they stick around for a while longer.
The Big Secret
One of the biggest secrets that was kept during the whole show is rather juicy. It turns out that Natalie Schafer who played Mrs. Lovey Howell’s wife, never ever told anyone what was her real age. Not to the cast members, not to the crew members and not even the producers. Eventually the “truth came out” and the discovery was as promised very juicy. Schafer was 13 years older than her on TV husband played by Jim Backus.
It’s In The Contract
Not only the age was kept a secret, Schafer’s contract clearly stated that there were to be no close-ups of her so as to make sure no one would see a single wrinkle, and that no one would be able to notice the 13-year-old age gap between her and her husband. Wow, who would have been able to guess that?
The characters received radio transmissions via their Packard Bell AM radio. An additional telescoping antenna was there to make it more believable that the castaways would actually get long distance messages. However,the actual model itself had neither an antenna nor a handle.
The storylines of the show wrote that the castaways created technology from scraps on the island. Obviously this made more work for the show’s prop team, who had to think up crazy inventions made with only a few random objects. They were Macgyvering before Macgyver was even a show.
When CBS redid their show line up, Gilligan’s Island sadly got the boot. Their ratings were low at this point and the network thought the show would be able to do well in a a less expensive time slot. However, network executives ultimately cut out Gilligan’s Island altogether for the series Gunsmoke.
Before the demise of the show, but already feeling its decline, the producers wanted to bring in a new ‘character’ to freshen things up. They thought a friendly dinosaur would do, except that in the end it didn’t work out because it would have cost too much. “Just picture it!” Schwartz remembered Stromberg saying. “Gilligan and his pet dinosaur! It’s our answer to ‘Mr. Ed.’”
Alan Hale Jr.’s road to his audition for Gilligan’s Island was a crazy one. First, he got on a horse from his other set in Utah. He then hitchhiked all the way to Las Vegas, and from there flew to Los Angeles to audition for the role of Bob Denver. Good thing too, we couldn’t imagine anyone else in the part.
Notice that Gilligan never had a first name? During the show he was always called Gilligan and there was never mention of his first name. After the show ended, Sherwood Schwartz told the world that Gilligan’s first name was Willie. Schwartz and Denver used to say, “He thinks Gilligan is his first name, and I think it’s his last name. Because in the original presentation, it’s Willy Gilligan. But he doesn’t believe it, and he doesn’t want to discuss it. He insists the name is Gilligan.”
The $20K Skirt
Oh Mary Ann. There was absolutely no young boy or older man who didn’t have a crush on the gorgeous actress. Men were in love with her, women adored her. But there was much more than her looks and personality that made he unforgettable. It turns out that one of the skirts Mary Ann was wearing during the show, was sold later for, and we hope you are sitting for this, $20 thousand! Whoa!
Can Find Work
Tina Louise who played the beautiful bombshell Ginger Grant, was indeed one of the most memorable characters in the show. Actually, she was so memorable that after the show was cancelled, Louise could not land any new role. That’s because she was too identified with Ginger’s character. Louise even blamed the show for ruining her TV career.
99 Episodes Baby
The Gilligan’s Island was a hugely popular TV show with a great storyline and a relatable cast. Actually the cast was so committed to the show that each and every one of the main characters appeared in EVERY episode of the 99 episodes of the show (with an exception of maybe one or two episodes that did not include the whole bunch). That’s commitment.
Los Angeles is known for having heavy traffic, and that kind of traffic makes a substantial amount of noise. So when the lagoon scenes were shot on CBS’s lot in the City of Angels, they needed to shoot fast so as not to record any of the noise from the nearby highway.
Natalie Schafer did the pilot episode of the show specifically in order to get a free vacation to Hawaii, where the show’s pilot was filmed. Later, when the show was picked up by CBS, she became extremely upset to learn that she would have to move to Los Angeles for the actual filming.
Marry Ann, played by Dawn Wells, couldn’t sing to save her life. So when the script stated that they all had to sing, she just mouthed along with everyone in order to make the singing sequences sound at least somewhat tolerable. Maybe she should have gotten singing lessons.
Mr. Fix It
Fans were not fooled when it came to The Professors role in the show. Since he was so handy with making things from stuff all over the island, how is it that he couldn’t fix the boat? Well, the obvious answer is because had he been able to fix the boat, the show would have been over.
Everyone thought at the time that Alan Young was the producer’s favorite to play the role of Gilligan o Gilligan’s Island. Many years later however, Sherwood stated that he had no idea who got that idea since he was never even thought of for the role. Talk about a broken telephone.
In the beginning, there was an idea to put a child in the show who would act as The Professor’s nephew. The idea didn’t end up coming to fruition however due to the fact that Gilligan was such a kid at heart. It simply made the show better without needing a kid.
Not to say that the show had any fault for this, but all three leading ladies of the show were each married for less than ten years. Maybe it was the show’s shooting schedule that did it? Or perhaps it was all the adoring male fans who were lining up for marriage one after the other?
Gilligan the hero
Gilligan was known for his goofball antics and constantly messing up as well as messing around. So why did Skipper keep him around, despite the huge annoyance Gilligan clearly was to him? Apparently, the two sailor men go all the way back to their Navy days in World War II, when Gilligan saved the Skippers life, rescuing him from an errant depth charge. So without this loveable goofball, we would never have had the hard working skipper.
The actress who played Mrs. Howell, the wife of the millionaire Thurston Howell III, was a woman named Natalie Schafer. And as it turns out, she was actually a real life millionaire off the set as well. She made her money by buying up dozens of properties on Rodeo Drive back when the houses there cost about the same as a small, cheap car. The prices on the street rose significantly, and she made a lot of money.
World wide reach
It turns out that despite being on the air for only four seasons, the show’s critical acclaim reached all over the world. One day, as Dawn Wells was travelling in the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific, she happened upon a tiny island inhabited by a tribe with no electricity, cars, or any modern technology whatsoever. But when she was introduced to the chief of this small fishing village, the chief’s eye’s lit up because her recognized her from Gilligan’s Island.
The Alf crossover
During one of the episode’s of TV’s hit series Alf, the alien had a dream that he was actually stuck on Gilligan’s island with the entirety of the original Gilligan’s Island cast and crew. It was a great cross over special, and everyone from the original Gilligan’s Island cast was on the show. This included Alan Hale Jr, Dawn Wells, Russell Johnson, and even Bob Denver making an appearance.
Tough guy Alan Hale
Alan Hale was known around set for being a really tough person. He was in the military and nothing really seemed to phase him. In fact, while he was filming an episode involving climbing up a tree, he fell and missed the soft landing spot the crew had prepared for him, landing on the concrete set floor. He broke his arm, but did not tell anyone about it for weeks. When asked how we was able to do it, he simply said “it wasn’t easy.”
The pilot of the show was actually a lot different than how the show itself turned out. For instance, there were different characters in the pilot compared to the show. The two women were supposed to be a high school teacher and two secretaries. The networks believed that the pilot would have confused people so much that it was not re-broadcast until 1992, when they thought people could handle the change.
One of the main ways that sitcoms and TV shows tried to stay relevant in the 1960s and 1970s was to turn them into cartoons and have cartoon spinoffs. And Gilligan’s Island is indeed no exception to this rule. The show actually spawned two different cartoons. One was Gilligan’s Island, but just in cartoon form, while the other one was Gilligan’s Planet, which was the same exact premise as Gilligan’s Island, but set in outer space.
The many Gingers
Despite primarily being played by Tina Louise on the actual Gilligan’s Island television show, the role of Ginger has been reprised by six different people when taking into account the television show, the TV movies, and of course, the animated series. What is really interesting to note is that in one of the Gilligan’s Island cartoons, Gilligan’s Planet, Dawn Wells voice acted for both Mary Ann as well as Ginger.
The fight for the show
Sherwood Schwartz was the producer for Gilligan’s Island, working for United Artists Television. When Schwartz went to CBS to speak with the president of the station Jim Aubrey to pitch the show, Aubrey was apprehensive. Jim Aubrey’s primary concern with putting the show on the air was that audiences would end up getting bored due to the fact that Gilligan and the rest of the castaways never got off the island.
Natalie Schafer: stunt woman
Despite being a millionaire both in real life and on the show Gilligan’s Island, Natalie Schafer actually did all of her own stunts. Consider the fact that she was pushing about 65 years of age at the time, and it really makes what she did incredible. She did everything from fall and sink into quicksand to even fall into the lagoon.
Dawn Wells is the one who made out the best financially out of any of the cast members from Gilligan’s Island. Her husband at the time was a TV show agent and implored her to add a clause to the fine print of her contract saying that she would continue to receive royalties for any syndication the show earns. Considering that the show is still played on daytime television from time to time, Dawn continues to get checks from her work on the show.
The real Mary Ann
Dawn Wells was not originally slated to play the role of Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island. Instead, that role was supposed to go to 1960’s acting sensation and every guy’s crush Raquel Welch. However, in the end, she decided not to take the part. This may have actually saved her career, as not a single one of the cast members were able to get major roles in television ever again, as they were all associated with Gilligan’s Island.
Jim Backus’ character, Thurston Howell III, was a reference to Sherwood Schwartz’s show, The Alan Young Show. Backus would also play the character of Hubert Updyke III. Also, when Sherwood was pitching the show, he said, “the island would be a social microcosm and a metaphorical shaming of world politics in the sense that when necessary for survival, yes we can all get along”.
Cheapskates on set
Despite portraying a rich, big spending multi-millionaire on television, actor Jim Backus was in reality known as a total cheapskate on set. There are multiple stories of Backus going out for lunch or dinner with the Gilligan’s Island cast and surreptitiously “forgetting his wallet,” thereby forcing one of the other cast members to pay for his meal. He did this so often that the entire cast and crew would tease him about it.
Tina Louise was quite the priss while acting on Gilligan’s Island, and forced the cast and crew to make numerous exceptions for her during filming. This is perhaps due to the fact that she was misled as to what her role would be on the show by her agent. Her agent said that she would be playing the part of a movie star on a castaway island, but she did not seem to realize that the show was not about HER exploits.
All of America on the show
Each one of the characters on Gilligan’s Island was cast in order to portray a certain segment of American society at the time. It is one of the main reasons that the men are referred to by their professions as opposed to their actual names – so that they can represent anyone in that particular aspect of society. Except of course, for the loveable, all around good guy Gilligan.
When David Bowie died earlier in 2016, #RipBobDenver hashtag was trending, bringing up fan tributes from around the globe. However, this all happened after Denver had been deceased for over ten years. Sometimes people just support things blindly because everyone else is.